Sunday, July 08, 2007

Transformers / *½ (PG-13)

Sam Witwicky: Shia LaBeouf
Mikaela Banes: Megan Fox
Captain Lennox: Josh Duhamel
USAF Tech Sergeant Epps: Tyrese Gibson
Maggie Madsen: Rachael Taylor
Glen Whitmann: Anthony Anderson
Defense Secretary John Keller: Jon Voight
Agent Simmons: John Turturro

And featuring the voice talents of:
Optimus Prime: Peter Cullen
Megatron: Hugo Weaving

Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks SKG present a film directed by Michael Bay. Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman and John Rogers, based on the Hasbro toys. Running time: 144 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I was never a fan of “Transformers”. The toys were cool enough, but I could never get into the cartoon as a kid. I mean it really wasn’t any different than “G.I Joe” – just substitute the Joes vs. COBRA for the Autobots vs. the Decepticons – but I just never really cared about those machines. So going into the live action film based on the Hasbro line of toys, my expectations were low. Upon viewing the sure-fire summer blockbuster, I found those expectations were met.

“Tranformers” is a giant clunking behemoth of a film that never breaks free of its technological mastery to form anything resembling coherence or humanity. It has a giant cast that is never allowed the chance to connect with each other, giants robots that never seem to be more than toys despite the weight their “live action” CGI rendering supposedly lends them, giants gobs of testosterone that spurt out as if from a high pressured hose chopped in two, giants action sequences that are actually quite stunning despite their sloppy editing, and two women that are ridiculously good looking for the situations in which they find themselves.

Has director Michael Bay (“Bad Boys II”) ever opened a film without showing slow motion shots of sweaty men with guns? This one opens at a military base in Qatar, which is attacked by a helicopter that had gone missing several months earlier. The really strange part is that the helicopter attacks the base on its own two legs.

Like a good summer action/disaster flick, the film then takes us without explanation to a kid, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, “Disturbia”), giving a genealogy report in high school. He is a typical nerd hero who can’t get through a sentence of his report without drawing the paper clip fire of the stereotypical movie jockhead. Do you think there is any chance he will not steal said jockhead’s main squeeze, Mikaela (aka hot chick #1; Megan Fox, “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen”), by the third or fourth reel?

Sam has a deal with his dad that if he receives an ‘A’ for his report on an ancestor who discovered a giant metal man in Antarctica several hundred years ago, his dad will help him buy a car. At some grease-monkey sleazoid dealership where he can’t afford to buy a beat up VW Bug, he discovers a custom-built Camero, which the dealer sells to him after some convincing from the car itself. What the car does would have convinced me to close my doors and leave the state rather than sell the car.

The car is an alien Transformer robot sent to protect Sam, because he holds the secret location of the Allspark, a power source that started a war between the alien robot races the Autobots and Decepticons, in his ancestor’s artifacts. Oh yes, and then there is Maggie Madsen, (aka hot chick #2; Rachael Taylor, “See No Evil”), and Glen, the snappy-comeback black guy (Anthony Anderson, “The Departed”); they’re two computer hackers recruited by the NSA to find out how that walking helicopter hacked into the Defense Department. And the surviving soldiers from the Qatar attack must fight off a giant robot scorpion in the desert to get a photo to the DOD that will solve all the mysteries. And the mysterious Sector 7, lead by Agent Simmons (John Turturro, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), a strange man in charge of government secrets.

Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (TV’s “Alias”) alternate the mood back and forth from overwrought melodrama to silly satire. Not only do the performers face the difficult task of having to act alongside non-existent special effects, but they are given little character development and even less interaction with their fellow performers. While most of the dialogue seems right in line with a typical disaster flick (filled with technical jargon and sappy emotional clichés), the lines uttered by the Transformers themselves seem lifted directly from the juvenile scripts of the cartoon series. It is a nice throwback, however, to hear Peter Cullen reprise his vocalizations of Optimus Prime’s words. Yet, Hugo Weaving (“The Matrix” series), whose vocal performance as V in “V for Vedetta” was so effective, is sadly underutilized as Megatron’s voice.

If anything good can be said about “Transformers”, it is that it looks amazing. These are some of the best CGI effects integrated into live action settings I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the mechanical nature of the robots gave the animators an easier time in rendering them realistically, but they are glorious to behold on the silver screen. Unfortunately, the script meanders its way through a fairly simple plot, almost like it’s dragging its feet when it should just be racing to the big fight at the end. By the time we get to that spectacular battle, I found I no longer cared.

While a lack of investment in the script severely cripples this film, it’s weakest point is in the editing. Never have so many scenes, most of which were created virtually, fit together so poorly. Often times with CGI, the filmmakers use low lighting to help hide some of the special effects. “Transformers” is wonderfully lit, and yet the action still doesn’t flow together smoothly. There are continuity differences in many of the different set ups for the same scene, pacing is thrown off in several places where the shots are held too long or not long enough, and even the structure of the film has flaws that could have been fixed in editing. Some storylines, which could have been intercut with existing action, are lost for a good twenty or thirty minutes. The hackers working for the NSA are missing for so long at one point that when they reappeared I’d forgotten how they ended up where they were.

Since all this comes from someone who is admittedly not a fan of giant talking robot aliens who choose to take the form of transportation vehicles for a theoretically inferior race, all you hardcore “Transformer” fans can take it with a few grains of salt. But I am a person who is more than willing to suspend his disbelief. I’ve already welcomed a man who can shoot spider webs out of his wrists, a pirate who came back from the dead, a rat who cooks, surfing penguins, and Lindsay Lohan as a serious actress—all in the past couple of months. I’m willing to accept these giant transforming protectors. But to enjoy such technological wonders, I need a film that isn’t such a technical tragedy.

Buy it: Transformers movies, games & toys


Anonymous said...

This is Ethan, I just dont feel like making a google blogger name. Anyway I saw Transformers on Saturday night and my one big problem was during the major battle at the end, the way it was edited i was having a hard time telling which robots were which in full speed.
Other than that as a fan of the old cartoon I enjoyed the movie I think most people who enjoyed the cartoon will enjoy seeing all their favorite characters.
One thing that amused me though was at the end when Optimus was giving his, "we hide in plain sight" speech with all your favorite robots hanging out together in the park.

Anonymous said...

I liked the way they dumped all of the Decepticons in the ocean. Waste management was never a real big thing with the government I guess. And why were all the transformers violent that the All Spark created?

Andrew D. Wells said...

Thank you, Ethan. Yeah, the impossible to follow battle scenes is what I was trying to get on the editing about. Often action scenes in CGI heavy films are hard to follow, but usually it is because it is just plain hard to see what is going on due to dim lighting. In this film I could see perfectly well the details on the screen and still couldn't follow the action.